Olympic Year in Review: Headlines


OlympicTalk takes a look back at the year in Olympic sports this week. Today, we review enduring news stories.

US Speedskating’s Sochi Problems

U.S. speed skaters starred in the World Cup season before the Olympics. That, combined with US Speedskating’s history of Olympic medals (more than 20 more than any other U.S. winter sport), portended success in Sochi.

But the U.S. won zero long-track speed skating medals for the first time since 1984. They weren’t even close. The best individual finish was seventh place.

What went wrong? Early reports emphasized an Under Armour racing suit billed as the fastest in the world, different from the suits that U.S. skaters wore during the World Cup season. Skaters eventually reverted to the old suits during the Olympics, but results didn’t get any better.

US Speedskating cited several factors and finalized an internal report in May, also including a decision to hold a pre-Olympic training camp outdoors and up in the mountains in Collalbo, Italy. The Olympic speed skating events were indoors and near sea level.

This season, two-time Olympic champion Shani Davis started out slow but made his first podium in his last World Cup race of 2014. Heather Richardson has been arguably the most impressive male or female skater so far, while Brittany Bowe has also made the podium multiple times.

Olympic Year in Review: Winter Sports | Summer Sports | Photos | Social Media

Yuna Kim Judging Controversy

Russian figure skater Adelina Sotnikova‘s victory over defending champion Yuna Kim in Sochi became the controversy of the Winter Games, in competition at least.

One of the judges is married to a top Russian figure skating federation official and was seen hugging Sotnikova shortly after she won gold. Another judge was suspended one year as being part of the 1998 Olympic ice dance fixing scandal.

Kim retired after the Olympics, but South Korea’s Skating Union announced one month later that it would file an official protest to the International Skating Union. In June, the International Skating Union rejected the complaints.

It certainly looks like we’ll see Kim at the 2018 Olympics, since she is an ambassador for the first Winter Games in South Korea. Sotnikova, meanwhile, hasn’t competed in top-level international competition since Sochi, suffering a torn ankle ligament this fall.

source: Getty Images
Getty Images

Oscar Pistorius Trial

A trial that gripped South Africa and made headlines worldwide began a little over one week after the Sochi Olympics ended.

Oscar Pistorius, the first double amputee to run in the Olympics in 2012, faced up to life in prison for shooting and killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day 2013.

Pistorius’ trial began March 3, was initially slated for three weeks and ran to Oct. 21 with several breaks. On the 49th day in court, Pistorius was sentenced to no more than five years in prison for culpable homicide (but not premeditated murder) with a possibility of it being less than a year and the rest served under house arrest.

On Dec. 10, judge Thokozile Masipa ruled South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal will review the murder trial. Pistorius, 28, is barred from the Rio 2016 Paralympics under his current sentence but could be allowed to return to track and field.

Michael Phelps’ Comeback

The most decorated Olympian of all time came out of a 20-month competitive retirement in April, won his first final in May and was the best U.S. men’s swimmer again by August.

Phelps won USA Swimming’s Male Athlete of the Year and finished the season as the only U.S. man with the fastest time in the world in an Olympic event (100m butterfly).

Then, Phelps was pulled over and arrested on DUI charges in September, suspended six months by USA Swimming in October and received probation after pleading guilty in a Baltimore court in December.

The 29-year-old is training again, after spending 45 days in an Arizona treatment program, and focused on unspecified goals for 2015. He is barred from the 2015 World Championships, the biggest meet between now and his potential fifth Olympics in 2016.

Michael Phelps’ potential record chases at Rio Olympics

2024 Olympics

In 2013, the 2020 Olympics were awarded to Tokyo. The focus quickly turned to the next Summer Games, and which city they would be awarded to in 2017.

The U.S. Olympic Committee ramped up its bidding process in 2014, choosing four finalist cities in June (from an initial group of more than 30 to which it sent letters in February 2013). In December, the USOC announced it would bid for the 2024 Olympics, its first bid since Chicago’s failed bid for the 2016 Games.

The U.S. is expected to choose one city from Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., in January to be its 2024 bid. The U.S. is in the midst of its longest stretch between hosting Olympics (since 2002) since a 28-year gap from 1932 to 1960.

The U.S. will also get to size up its competition in 2015, with bids confirmed for Rome and either Berlin or Hamburg. Paris and South Africa may also join the fray.

2024 Olympics coverage

Lindsey Vonn’s Comeback

The 2010 Olympic downhill champion Lindsey Vonn announced on Jan. 7 that she would undergo a second knee surgery in less than a year’s time and miss the Sochi Olympics. But she would return to ski racing, and the Olympics in 2018.

Racing another four years? Skepticism was merited. Vonn will be 33 come Pyeongchang 2018, older than any previous Winter Olympic women’s Alpine medalist.

But Vonn silenced doubters with victories in two of her first four races back in December. She goes into the new year one win shy of the women’s all-time World Cup record and a medal favorite at the World Championships in Vail/Beaver Creek in February.

Video: Vonn falls in final race of 2014

Jessica Pegula upset in French Open third round

Jessica Pegula French Open

Jessica Pegula, the highest-ranked American man or woman, was upset in the third round of the French Open.

Elise Mertens, the 28th seed from Belgium, bounced the third seed Pegula 6-1, 6-3 to reach the round of 16. Pegula, a 29-year-old at a career-high ranking, had lost in the quarterfinals of four of the previous five majors.

Down 4-3 in the second set, Pegula squandered three break points in a 14-minute game. Mertens then broke Pegula to close it out.

Pegula’s exit leaves No. 6 seed Coco Gauff, last year’s runner-up, as the last seeded hope to become the first U.S. woman to win a major title since Sofia Kenin at the 2020 Australian Open. The 11-major span without an American champ is the longest for U.S. women since Monica Seles won the 1996 Australian Open.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

Mertens, who lost in the third or fourth round of the last six French Opens, plays a Russian Anastasia in the fourth round: Pavlyuchenkova or Potapova.

Earlier, ninth-seeded Russian Daria Kasatkina became the first player to reach the fourth round. She won 6-0, 6-1 over 69th-ranked American Peyton Stearns, the 2022 NCAA champion from Texas.

Sloane Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open champion, is the lone American woman left in the bottom half of the draw. She plays Kazakh Yulia Putintseva later Friday. Gauff, Bernarda Pera and Kayla Day remain in the top half.

Friday’s featured men’s matches: Top seed Carlos Alcaraz versus 26th seed Denis Shapovalov of Canada, and No. 3 Novak Djokovic against No. 29 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain.

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Olympians, Paralympians get early look at Paris on ‘Top Chef’ World All-Stars


A year from now, they hope to vie for medals in the City of Light. But on this day, four U.S. hopefuls for the 2024 Paris Olympics and Paralympics competed on “Top Chef” World All-Stars at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, the first cross-promotional moment across NBC Universal’s One Platform for the Games.

As Parisians and tourists traversed the Champ de Mars, Olympic champions gymnast Suni Lee and sprinter Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone and Paralympic champion swimmer Mallory Weggemann and medalist sprinter Hunter Woodhall bundled and huddled and did everything possible to stay warm between rain showers.

Then came the 30-minute frenzy. Each athlete was paired with a cheftestant for what the Bravo series calls a wall challenge: the chef and the athlete each attempted to make the same dish while separated by a divider, unable to see what the other was doing. The duo whose dishes have the closest appearance and taste win.

It’s little surprise that Weggemann prevailed. At 33 on the day of filming, she’s a decade older than the rest of the athletes.

When she was 18, Weggemann lost movement from the waist down while receiving epidural injections to treat shingles. Four years later, she swam at her first Paralympics and won her first gold medal.

“I understand that when I go onto a [filming] set like today, and I’m rolling rather than stepping, that looks different,” she said. “Not everyone who’s going to watch ‘Top Chef’ is a sports fanatic, and so they maybe don’t watch the Olympics and Paralympics, but in that moment, we got to bring them into the movement in a way that we maybe otherwise wouldn’t. I’m not oblivious to the fact that as a woman with a disability in that moment, I also have the power to change perceptions because not everyone in our society has exposure to disability.”

Each of the athletes, flown in by Delta, the official airline of Team USA through the 2028 Los Angeles Games, came at a different point in their journeys.

Weggemann has already been to three Paralympics and earned five medals. She did the “Top Chef” competition while three months pregnant. Baby Charlotte arrived March 16. Her goal is to be on the podium in Paris and be able to see her husband and daughter in the stands.

Woodhall, who won three medals in Tokyo in his Paralympic debut, visited the French capital with his then-fiancée Tara Davis, who placed sixth in the Tokyo Olympic long jump. Their Texas wedding was a month after the “Top Chef” filming.

“In Tokyo, we weren’t able to be there for each other,” said Woodhall, referring to COVID-19 travel restrictions for those Games not allowing spectators. “Paris is so exciting because we’ll both be able to really be in the moment and support each other through both the Olympic and Paralympic Games.”

McLaughlin-Levrone had husband Andre Levrone Jr., a former NFL practice squad wide receiver, by her side in Paris. Before “Top Chef,” she had a whirlwind spring and summer, getting married in May and then twice breaking her world record in the 400m hurdles. At the top of her sport, McLaughlin-Levrone had a decision to make in the fall and winter offseason: continue in the hurdles, where she has accomplished everything, or venture into another event, the 400m without hurdles, to test herself.

“That world record has stood for so long, and no one’s come even close to it,” she said of the flat 400m, and its 37-year-old world record, while in Paris. “So we definitely want to be able to try that and see what we can do there as well.”

Now, McLaughlin-Levrone is set to return to Paris next week for her first outdoor race since August. It will be a flat 400m. She also plans to race the 400m at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships in July, and possibly at August’s world championships in lieu of the hurdles.

Top Chef World All-Stars
Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone and cheftestant Sara Bradley meet after preparing their dishes during the “Top Chef” wall challenge. (Fred Jagueneau/Bravo)

The gymnast Lee became one of the unexpected golden stories of the Tokyo Games. After Simone Biles withdrew from the meet, the Hmong American from Minnesota seized the all-around title, the biggest prize in her sport.

She hasn’t performed in international gymnastics since. Lee matriculated at Auburn and competed for the Tigers. But NCAA gymnastics involves different routines, competitions and scoring than Olympic gymnastics. It’s such a contrast that, traditionally, joining a college team has often meant retirement from the Olympic level.

The afternoon before the “Top Chef” filming, Lee walked inside the Accor Arena in the Bercy neighborhood, the site of the 2024 Olympic gymnastics events. A competition was taking place that included the Brazilian who took silver behind Lee in Tokyo.

“I am a little nervous to get back out on the bigger stage,” Lee said then. “Going to that meet actually was really important to me because I think I needed the help of re-motivating myself and seeing what I’m getting back into, watching the competition, just getting used to that atmosphere again.”

Two months after that experience, Lee announced she would leave Auburn after her sophomore year to return to elite training for a 2024 Paris Olympic bid.

The “Top Chef” integration helps launch summer Paris Games-related fanfare, including national and world championships in many Olympic and Paralympic sports and events to mark the one-year-out dates from the Opening Ceremonies (July 26 for the Olympics, Aug. 28 for the Paralympics).

“Top Chef,” in its 20th season, previously featured Olympians before the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games and then again before Tokyo. Host Padma Lakshmi noticed a common trait.

“Their attention to detail is extraordinary,” she said. “Having that Olympic training, and really listening to what your coaches want, and what the parameters of the contest is, is something that they’re skilled at doing day in and day out.”

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